There are many philosophies and studies that harmonize food indulgences with weight loss and/or maintenance. And it makes sense. Cheat days give you reprieve from your “diet,” which helps keep you motivated to stay on track the majority of the time. OK, I won’t disagree with that.
However, when a woman asked me my thoughts about cheat days at a recent lecture I gave on breaking bad habits, I had a different take.While I do, of course, believe in treating yourself and indulging in moderation, I most definitely do not believe in premeditated cheat days. A plan to gorge on pizza and ice cream on Sunday night (only to be “good” again on Monday) goes against my beliefs with intuitive eating. When you plan cheat days in advance, you aren’t even giving yourself the opportunity to assess how much you really want the food — let alone consider the negative affects it could cause later. Guilt. Bloat. Triggered cravings. Regret. Yo-yo dieting patterns. Oh, and did I say bloat?
Let’s be clear: I’m talking about planned, throw-caution-to-the-wind type of cheat days — not having a burger with friends on Friday night, or enjoying dessert at your favorite restaurant. If you follow me on Instagram, you know full well that I allow for plenty of treats and tasty foods on a regular basis. (What you don’t always see, however, are the portions I actually eat, or all of other healthy choices I made leading up to the indulgent one.)
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I am a creature of habit, and in many ways this works to my advantage in leading a healthy lifestyle. For instance, I kinda-sorta actually enjoy meal planning. I feel bajiggity if I don’t workout at least four times a week and I am perfectly happy eating the same foods over and over. And over again. In fact, you can find me eating this exact kale salad with sweet potato for lunch just about every day at work, with a side of baby carrots.
However, habitual tendencies can also work against intuitive and mindful eating, which I am a huge proponent of. Habits are often behaviors learned over time that you do unconsciously…just…because. You don’t stop to ask why, or to assess things like nutrition needs or hunger levels.
Habits are hard to break, especially when they provide (temporary) comfort or add a little bright spot to your day. (Trust me, I understand just as well as anyone how satisfying the ritual of getting a morning cup of coffee can be.) But if you truly want to be your best, healthiest self then it’s time to face the truth hiding behind your habits. Here’s how to get started:
1. Identify what your habits are. This might seem like common sense, but sometimes habits are so engrained in your everyday life that you might not even realize that they are something you need to consider altering. For instance, for the past six months or so, my breakfast Monday through Friday has been the exact same: Peanut butter on whole grain toast with chia seeds and sliced banana, plus a hard boiled egg on the side. But having peanut butter everyday made me want it more and more. In my oatmeal, on top of waffles, and of course, random spoonfuls here and there that went unaccounted for. Instead of being a treat I had maybe a few times a week, my peanut butter fix was becoming…yes you guessed it…a habit. So now I alternate between my PB toast and green fruit smoothies and feel much more balanced and in control.
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